This Blade Runner 2049 article contains major spoilers.
Blade Runner 2049 begins with a familiar setup: a corpse, several Replicant suspects, and a blade runner to take them down. In this case, it’s Ryan Gosling’s Agent K, a Nexus-9 blade runner, who goes down the rabbit hole in search of the answers to the series’ biggest questions: do Replicants deserve to be treated as humans? And if so, have they in fact become more human-like than their cold, unsentimental creators? Ultimately, the truths K uncovers at the end of the movie affect the world on a much grander scale than what Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard discovered about himself at the end of the original.
But before we tumble any deeper into this wonderland of Replicants, evil geniuses, the police state, and the wasteland beyond the neon futurism of Los Angeles in the year 2049, let’s get some basic stuff out of the way. It’s important to establish which version of the original film we’re going to be talking about in conjunction with the sequel. Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve stated recently that he made the movie with both the 1982 theatrical cut and the 2007 final cut of the film in mind, both of which feature different endings for Deckard and Rachael. In fact, Villeneuve’s sequel touches upon aspects of both versions of the original without ever truly answering which is the canon one. After all, both could certainly fit Deckard’s situation by the time K catches up with him.
If the happy ending of the theatrical cut is the correct one, in which Deckard escapes the city with Rachael before the LAPD comes looking for her, then it would make sense that they settled out in the wasteland of Las Vegas — although that cut does end with a view of a lush landscape that’s uncharacteristic of anything seen in the outskirts of LA 2049. Deckard says in a voiceover at the end of this version that Rachael didn’t have a four-year lifespan like Roy Batty and the rest of the fugitive Nexus-6 model Replicants. We discover in Blade Runner 2049, of course, that this might be due to the fact that she’s a Nexus-7, an entirely new model Dr. Tyrell created and implanted with human memories. On top of making Rachael believe she was in fact human, Tyrell also gifted her with the ability to create life, the revelation that sparks the events of Villeneuve’s movie.
When K uncovers Rachael’s bones buried deep in the retired Sapper Morton’s (Dave Bautista) farm, Blade Runner 2049 suddenly becomes about more than a simple skinjob case. Multiple factions are interested and would benefit from either revealing the truth about Rachael’s baby or covering it up for good, including Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) and the LAPD, Replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), and a group of freedom fighters led by the mysterious Freysa (Hiam Abbas). K is somewhere in the middle, at first trying to simply complete his mission (after all, Nexus-9s don’t run or rebel) and destroy all evidence of the Replicant offspring, and then convinced that he’s actually the baby in question.
The big twist in the final act of the movie is that K isn’t the son of Deckard and Rachael at all, but just another cog in the machine that might lead to the child’s discovery. K, as Freysa puts it when she finally reveals herself to him, has been driven throughout the movie by the wish to be this Replicant chosen one who could save the rest of his kind from being persecuted — and on a more selfish note, to have been born and not manufactured. Like countless machines before him, K’s wish is to have a purpose beyond serving mankind. Of course, K does get to accomplish something for a cause bigger than himself by helping Deckard find his daughter… We’ll get to this in a bit, though.
Whatever you may ultimately think of the finished product, Villeneuve’s sequel is very faithful to the tone and look of the original. The washes of neon, the oppressive rains, and the overbearingly grim characters are all right on target. (To that last point, even Joi, played by the wonderful Ana de Armas, is shocked when she makes K smile during one of their delightful scenes together.) Villeneuve even utilizes the same sort of main character to tell his story, one who is more of a passenger than someone affecting change in the narrative. K follows the thread that eventually leads him to a postapocalyptic Las Vegas, the last known whereabouts of the legendary Deckard.
Let’s go back to The Final Cut of the original film for a second. We know that this is the version that director Ridley Scott preferred, and probably the one Villeneuve is working off of the most. This cut of Blade Runner excises the happy ending and suggests that Deckard himself is a Replicant. This revelation is hinted at throughout the film, especially during the added sequence where Deckard has a dream about a unicorn, and is seemingly confirmed by the origami unicorn Gaff (Edward James Olmos, who makes an all too short cameo in 2049) leaves in the blade runner’s apartment at the end of the movie. You see, Gaff’s little paper gift to Deckard suggests that he knows about the blade runner’s dream. How is that possible? Simple: Deckard’s memories have been implanted and Gaff has access to them, which means that Deckard, like Rachael in the beginning of the movie, has no idea that he’s actually a Replicant. In this version of the movie, when Deckard goes on the run with Rachael, it’s to save both of their artificial skins.
While the “Is Deckard a Replicant?” question has remained a highly debated topic among fans of the original film, it seems like a pretty silly debate at this point, almost as mad as the world Deckard and K inhabit. It’s not often a director addresses something that’s been left open ended in a movie. But almost as if to spite both Warner Bros., who forced the theatrical cut’s happy ending on the movie, and Ford, who disagreed with the decision to make Deckard a Replicant, Scott has been quite direct about it. Deckard is a Replicant, according to Scott, and the final moments of Blade Runner are about the character realizing that. That settles it, right?
Scott’s comments about Deckard’s true identity have only sparked more debate, as if the director’s take on the movie were nothing more than just another opinion. This again comes down to the fact that there isn’t a cut of the movie that’s recognized as the canon version. So some fans embrace the original theatrical cut and other’s go with Scott’s 2007 re-edit. In the end, who is right?
Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 never ends up giving fans an answer one way or another. While this sequel doesn’t actually spend much time addressing the franchise’s biggest question, there are more hints that Deckard may very well be a Replicant. The biggest tease comes from Wallace, who has the old blade runner captured and brought back to his pyramidal palace at the center of Los Angeles. Wallace wants to know who Deckard’s daughter is so that he can use her to figure out how to make his Replicants reproduce. (We’ll get to why Wallace wants this in a second!)
While trying to break the old man, Wallace suggests that Deckard should consider his own actions and the motivations behind them. Wallace asks the tough question: if Deckard is in fact a Replicant, was he created specifically for the purpose of falling in love with Rachael and procreating with her? This ends up being another question we never get the answer to. On the one hand, it might all be true and Deckard has been a puppet on strings his entire life. Or Wallace could just be playing mind games with Deckard in order to get him to talk. Either way, Deckard doesn’t reveal his daughter’s identity, even after Wallace brings out an almost perfect copy of Rachael to further entice him. (Deckard calls bullshit when he notices that Rachael II doesn’t have his beloved’s green eyes.)
It has to be said that Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel that raises even more questions about the original than it answers. We don’t learn Deckard’s true identity, and by the end of the film, we’re not even sure how Rachael and Deckard were able to conceive in the first place. The simple explanation is that Tyrell simply gave Rachael a fully functioning reproductive system, but the truth seems way more complicated than that, especially since Wallace can’t just copy what Tyrell did.
But didn’t Wallace buy out the Tyrell Corporation, take ownership of its operations and patents, and keep all of the old manufacturer’s records? Don’t the Wallace archives hold the secret to the Nexus-7? As explained during K’s first visit to Wallace HQ and also in the anime short film, Blade Runner Black Out 2022, Replicant terrorists caused a massive blackout in 2022 that erased all hard drives around the world, deleting most Tyrell data in the process. And while this blackout seemed like a random act of violence at first, it was actually part of a much bigger plan to hide Rachael’s baby from the rest of the world. Her identity and the process by which she was created would be known only by Freysa, Sapper Morton, and the fugitive Deckard. Rachael, of course, had died during child birth.
Even if Wallace had acquired the information he needed to make his Nexus-9s reproduce, what was his endgame? Well, that’s quite confusing and I might even call it a bit of a plot hole. Wallace, who by 2049 has saved the world from famine and aided the off-world campaign to colonize more planets by producing his new brand of obedient Replicants, thinks humanity will need way more skinjobs if it plans to spread out across the galaxy. More Replicants than Wallace can possibly make, which is why he wants to create a new type of model that can reproduce on its own.
Of course, Wallace’s plan is in line with Freysa’s freedom fighters in a way. After all, if Replicants were to begin reproducing, wouldn’t humanity’s opinion on the machines change? The only thing really separating Replicant from man at this point is the ability to create life, the wall between the species that has allowed the masters to continue treating the slaves as less than human. If Wallace were to succeed, wouldn’t this new status quo cause some sort of ethical paradox, at which point humanity would stop seeing Replicants as property? As Lt. Joshi says to K, the truth about Rachael’s child would “break the world.” It would also destroy Wallace’s business empire. Surely, it would be impossible for Wallace to continue selling Replicants as slaves if consumers viewed the machines as “more human than human.” Wallace himself makes the best case against his own mission when he says that mankind lost the stomach for human slaves when the Replicants arrived.
So what the hell is this dude doing? Whether a plot hole or simply evidence of Wallace’s madness, this particular bit of motivation remains a mystery.
Thankfully, Villeneuve answers Blade Runner 2049‘s most important question: where is Deckard and Rachael’s child? It turns out that their daughter, Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), has been hiding right under the very nose of Wallace all along. Ana, who has been confined to a sterile room for the rest of her life due to a “compromised immune system,” was hidden away by Freysa in order to protect her from the outside world. Deckard explains that he never met her, and that his part in the Replicants’ plan was to go away. “Sometimes, in order to love someone, you have to be a stranger,” Deckard tells K earlier in the movie.
So Ana has spent the last few years of her life in a single room inside a Replicant upgrade center, creating fake memories for Wallace, who implants them into his Nexus-9s. This is why K has the memory of the wooden horse. It’s in fact Ana’s memory from when she was a little girl and left behind in a San Diego scrap yard. As Ana explains to K during his initial investigation into whether he’s Rachael’s son, every designer of memories puts a little bit of him or herself in the memory.
In this case, Ana sold Wallace a memory that ended up being of special significance to K. At first, K dismisses the memory as just another piece of his programming, but as he dives deeper into his case and confirms that the wooden horse does in fact exist, K starts to believe he very well may have had an actual childhood.
The date on the horse’s hoof, 10.16.21, may actually be Ana’s birth date, two years after the events of Blade Runner and a year before the black out that erased all record of her. The timeline is admittedly a little murky, but go with it. The important thing is that Ana is safe — as long as she never leaves that one room.
The big question is what exactly is Ana? Is she human or is she a Replicant? If you believe that Deckard is actually human, then Ana is some sort of hybrid of both man and machine. Otherwise, she’s a new kind of pure Replicant, conceived by two machines and born as a normal child. Since we don’t know how exactly Ana’s organic model of Replicant works, or any of the rules of Replicant reproduction, we can’t say for sure how or why she has been able to grow and age.
The ability to age might be something she picked up from her dad, who is a bit longer in the tooth since the first movie. Might Nexus-7s be able to age normally? After all, Rachael wasn’t tied to a four-year lifespan either. That said, Rachael was created as a fully formed adult like the rest of her kin, so that still doesn’t explain how Ana started out as an infant and became a woman. Again, we can’t say anything for sure without knowing what’s up with Deckard. I doubt we’ll ever truly know at this point.
Blade Runner 2049 ends with K saving Deckard from Wallace and Luv in a messy fight outside of the walls of Los Angeles. K has taken quite the beating at this point, having been stabbed, shot, and wounded in every single way imaginable by the time the credits roll. Not to mention that K has had his heart broken by the death of Joi, whose own nature remains a mystery. Is the hologram companion an intelligent AI who can actually love or just a heck of a simulation? There’s no way I’m going to try to piece that together here. Maybe some other time.
The fate of K, Deckard, and Ana are left in the air. Deckard and Ana have been reunited but we don’t get to see their reunion beyond a greeting. As for K, he lies on the steps outside of Ana’s lab, clutching his wounds and looking up at the sky, snow falling dreamily from the sky.
It is implied that K may very well die from his wounds, as the “Tears in Rain” theme from Vangelis’ Blade Runner score begins to play in the background. This is the same music that accompanied Roy Batty’s final moments, as his time finally ran out. K doesn’t get the courtesy of a monologue, though. Instead, K simply waits outside while father is reunited with the child he could have been. Like Deckard before him, this wasn’t K’s story after all. He was just along for the ride. Time to die.